Hiya guys, and welcome to my read-through of Bakuman Chapter 98: Handshake and Revision, in which I discuss good character retcons, the rival dynamic, and generally wax enthusiastic.
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Handshake and Revision Summary
A Dream Bigger Than A Good School and Job
Eight years ago, Iwase gets second place in the Yakusa City Meiyo Municipal Achievement Test; in first place is Akito Takagi. Iwase’s friend thinks he’s from Meiso Elementary.
Meanwhile, the third-place boy is teased for only making third despite studying for four hours with a tutor. The boy – Jinbo – denies that he studies that hard or his goal is to become a doctor. Iwase’s friend finds it in poor taste to deny studying hard.
Meanwhile, Takagi’s friends – who refer to him as Shuto – bug him about his first-place placement. Takagi plays it off as the A+ Fairy, giving the good ol’ ganbarou. The boys continue pestering him about all of it. Akito plays it cool – by which I mean totally indifferent – and explains that he has bigger dreams than getting into a good college or high school.
The boys want to know what that is, but Akito – reading Jump – pretends he doesn’t know. Iwase cannot comprehend what that even means.
Takagi continues to surpass her in the rankings, seemingly without any effort on his part; she wonders if it is truly a rivalry. One day, she introduces herself to him as the girl who places one below him.
She puts her hand out and asks them to continue pushing each other to greater heights. She admits privately that she loved him truly, then, and wished to surpass him at his very best, as all good rivals do.
Back in the present, Miura calls his little space cadet back into the moment. Miura explains the boy’s plan to go with a longer arc – one presumably longer than four chapters.
Iwase is confident that Shujin put a great deal of thought into this decision, more than usual. Miura thinks it’s obvious given the stakes and wonders why Iwase seems so happy: she needs to take this seriously.
That is…rich, coming from Miura.
He asks if she wants to lose to Takagi. Of course not; she plans on beating him at his best with +Natural.
The Countdown Begins
On July 11th, the Akechi arc gets the final report for Chapter One. Yujiro is thrilled to see Crow get second place. +Natural landed in fourth place, and PCP is in fifth place. Hattori is confident that with this momentum their rankings will soar at the end of the arc.
The boys discuss the final report: Saiko admires how amazing Crow is. Shujin thinks they’ll have to keep pushing: he’ll start working on the last chapter of the arc.
The next week, PCP drops a place. Road Racer has moved above it, True Human and Mikata of Justice biting at its heels. Hattori decides to speak with the boys.
Shujin is comfortable with the placement. Hattori warns him that they may drop further – the middle part of an arc is the toughest part – although he foresees them rising back up in the fourth chapter and then, of course, the finale. Hattori asks about the status of the final chapter. Shujin’s almost done, and he’ll call when ready.
With Saiko, however, Shujin’s more circumspect: their rivals are catching up to and even surpassing them. Saiko’s confident in the work and believes people will love it. It’ll be competitive with +Natural and Road Racer. Shujin’s still uncertain, which even Saiko finds a little much.
Shujin then asks Saiko’s opinion on Akechi. Saiko thinks that even though he’s a bad guy, he’s still likable; it’s one of the reasons he’s confident this arc will work.
Shujin’s still shaky and calls Hattori to meet about the final chapter. Hattori can’t come over, but Shujin’s eager to talk, so he offers to go to Shueisha directly.
The Missing Ingredient
At their meeting room, Hattori agrees with Saiko that it’s great and they can go ahead and finish it up. Hattori notices that Shujin is dissatisfied, though, and asks what’s wrong with it.
Shujin can’t quite put his finger on it, but PCP’s reaction to winning over Akechi doesn’t seem right. Hattori jokes about PCP losing before letting Shujin know he has time to mull it over before giving it to Saiko. He should make a storyboard he is happy with. Shujin decides to put more thought into it.
He checks the time and decides to hit the bookshops for inspiration.
At the same moment, Miura calls over to him with Iwase in tow. Miura and Shujin discuss the end of their respective editorial meetings, though Miura mentions that his meeting with Iwase was top secret, SHujin and Iwase being Rivals after all.
Shujin asks to talk to Iwase alone for a moment. Miura politely exits to give them some privacy, and the two prepare.
Iwase explains that she heard of the conditions put upon Ashirogi but that, regardless, she won’t let +Natural lose to them. Shujin figured that out with the Crow collaboration she lobbied for. That said, he’ll never stop making manga.
Iwase is equally unwilling to lose. If she loses, she promises to walk around Shueisha naked in a handstand.
You just couldn’t fucking resist, Ohba, could you?
Shujin thinks it’s a joke, but obvs Iwase is dead serious. Shujin then wonders why Iwase is always so uptight with him.
Shujin then pulls a deep cut from early in the series: “If I had to choose between liking you or not, then I like you”. Well, he’s sincere about that. He doesn’t dislike her as a person, and he’s grateful that she’s now his rival. She’s not just a rival, though; she’s…
So Shujin returns the favor from middle school: Let’s inspire one another to reach even greater heights.
He shakes her hand and scurries off. Iwase promises not to lose to him.
Shujin Got It
Shujin arrives at the studio, chirping excitedly about the fact that he’s figured out the missing ingredient: Akechi and PCP respect each other. Rivals inspire each other. Saiko sees the connection between Eiji, Fukuda, Takahama, et. al. Shujin also mentioned how if Iwase and Eiji weren’t around, they’d never be as good as they are.
Shujin makes the subtext text and points out that they’re battling their rivals right now and need to apply it to their own work.
Meta fiction baby *jazz hands*
Saiko is totally confused. but Shujin, compelled by the power of overt metafiction, rewrites the ending for the last chapter in a flurry. He makes the final edits to the chapter.
The Conclusion of the Arc
On August 4th, with a double issue 39-40, the last chapter of the arc comes out. Saiko is thrilled with the changes to the story, and Kaya finds Saiko’s art has improved dramatically.
The main goal is to surpass +Natural. During the arc, PCP has vacillated between fifth, sixth, seventh, and sixth while +Natural has stayed in 4th.
Cutting to the conclusion of PCP’s chapter, the fireworks go off. PCP’s plan has fooled Akechi. He admits defeat and realizes his foe has calculated everything since watermelon appeared on the menu. At that moment, Akechi receives a text message.
PCP offers to reveal their identities since they’ve been so thrilled with this bout. They offer to reveal their identities if he wishes to turn around and see who they are. They stand behind him, ready to be revealed.
Akechi’s pride will not allow him: he will find them out on his own. He does ask one thing, however: PC means perfect crime; what does the last word mean?
Kei answers him: Party. The perfect crime party
He thanks them as they disappear into the night, and the chapter concludes.
But not for Bakuman
Miura enjoys the final chapter’s final twist of Akechi losing but not losing his pride. Yoshida is impressed with the five-chapter arc and its “fantastic” wrap up. Miura wonders if he should make Takahama focus on longer arcs as well. Yujiro gets a jab in about whether it’s better than Nizuma’s work, the real question. He’s confident it won’t beat Crow.
Miura remembers Justice was in Sixth last week, so he can’t afford to have them overtake +Natural. Yujiro agrees: Racer got fifth. Things are picking up in the current race. Miura gets a jab in: Justice has been consistently higher ranked than Racer. They two get into a dick-measuring contest comparing which series can beat which, yoshida playings straight man to their goofiness. He also correctly points out that healthy competition is good for the magazine.
Yujiro agrees, but he’d be surprised if a top series gets cancelled.
On August 8th, a Friday, the boys wait for the final report outside the studio. Saiko asks Shujin whether they did everything they could.
If they do get canceled, Shujin offers that they’ll start over and try again. No regrets.
At that moment, the phone rings with the final word, and their doom
And on THAT absurd cliffhanger, the chapter concludes.
Handshake and Revision Reaction
Fuck that cliffhanger
I mean, I’m pretty sure we know what’s going to happen, but honestly, fuck that cliffhanger. But don’t fuck this chapter. This chapter was fucking great.
We have reached one of my favorite tropes – when it’s done well – the flashback to the beginning of a conflict to highlight some thematic underpinning, to show how far characters have come, and to set up the climax of something in a really potent way. It always feels pregnant with tension, but when it’s implemented well, it can feel tragic or sad. A tristesse for another time that’s long since passed.
And I think the fact that they’ve decided to do a, let’s be real, mild character retcon of Iwase so that she’s not a scorned woman but a proper rival to Shujin in every way that really matters is such a brilliant stroke of contour.
Because, as I’ve laid out, I find the scorned woman bullshit the least interesting element of her character. I’ve always found her compelling – especially in the context of Ohba’s writing as a more male-coded character. Male coded in the sense that her hopes and dreams are for some professional rather than romantic fulfillment.
And now, with this flashback, we’re getting that character retcon in the best way.
This is also very explicitly the ten – the twist – of this particular arc. And the twist is that we’ve misunderstood who the rivals are.
Shujin is the rival in Iwase’s life, from the getgo. He’s the lazy, brilliant guy who doesn’t have to do anything and succeeds effortlessly.
At least in academia.
I really love that that’s Iwase’s true view of him, rather than the romance because it makes her the protagonist of her own life. Having that somebody who effortlessly beats her and who she works tirelessly to overcome.
It’s probably one of the least sexist things this story has accomplished so far. Aside from that heinous bet Iwase made being naked. yeesh.
But at the risk of being a broken record
The rival dynamic is the most important
Another benefit of metafiction – among the many we’ve already listed – is that when you properly engage in it, you can also tell your readers how to pick up on nuances they might otherwise miss.
And here, more than ever, we highlight the rival dynamic and why it works. Respect, just a little bit.
*Aretha voice* R E S P E C T
I adore the fact that the resolution to the arc is also the resolution to the rival dynamic. The secret sauce that does any rival dynamic work. They respect each other.
The fact that Shujin uses his relationship with his rival to change the relationship with PCP’s rival and then highlight that the other rivals around them – Fukuda and Takahama – all benefit from their mutual respect for each other.
And it also gives these last few beats before the final resolution of the arc some nice artificial stakes. I think it’s pretty clear at this point that they’re oing to beat, if not Eiji, then Iwase at a minimum, especially with how her character is being emphasized. But the fact that the boys are risking the biscuit for something greater and seeing their other rivals close on them. Yeah. It works well enough.
They also casually moved the goalposts so that Eiji wasn’t the focus, but whatever. Eiji’s endgame, anyway.
We also find it o a lesser extent with Miura and Yamahisa, who are extensions of the rival dynamic. Although infinitely more frustrating than the mangaka. Their vicarious rivalry is more of a joke, but it highlights that these things occur at all levels.
But back to the start
I am 100% ok with the fact that Iwase has been changed to be a friend, rather than a romantic rival. And that the resolution of this arc is, in part, putting to bed her shrewish tendencies. If anything, that may make this arc ten times sweeter because I don’t have to wring my own neck in annoyance every time she vows to destroy Shujin over it.
And for the record, I do get it, to some degree. Everyone’s experienced a jilting, and the desire for some kind of healthy pro-social revenge to protect your ego is a perfectly emotionally valid one. But man, Ohba dragged it the fuck out.
All this is to say, I’m hopeful that he’ll get more interesting dynamics with Iwase over the course of the rest of the run. Because she is truly an interesting character, and she deserves more interesting storytelling than that.
Especially when we’ve got this rival dynamic going on.
I know this arc is going to end in the next chapter, but man, I really want more rival battles.
I also know they only work in the context of being one-time things that occur sporadically, and we need other sub-bosses and villains to make them really truly work.
But maaaaannn this was great.
I’m almost a little worried for the next 80 or so chapters because they won’t be as thrilling as this un of chapters. We’re going to get other cool things.
Anyway, I really did love the sequence where Shujin and Iwase reaffirms their rivalry and friendship. And that it was so cordial. It really made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s good to see people who respect each other showing that respect.
Other than that
Those last few pages.
I adored the fact that we had one of the other benefits of metafiction: blended layers of reality. It was great to see that implemented because it’s one of my favorite things. I just like it when reality is a little bit out of shape, and it still makes sense.
But seriously, seeing the Manga PCP in action was thrilling. Because it served as an excellent capstone to the chapter and to this excellent arc, it was a reminder of how far we’ve come, just like that opening.
And it also contained several layers of meaning, as it was resolving both Iwase and Shujin’s arc, as well as being about the Akechi and PCP. The fact that it was a thrilling conclusion where we only saw the end didn’t matter. It just worked, like King Crimson.
And that means that Eiji is on the horizon soon, which is something incredible to look forward to.
I also love how this firmly reminds us that these boys have worked so hard to get here and that there has been a long road behind us.
I’m just happy, and I don’t really have much to say other than that.
Oh, also, the art was absurd this chapter. A significant bump over the usual quality. I think they went extra hard a chapter, because they knew how consequential this chapter would be.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out next week.
Until next time,